Although Princeton — where I live — is a university town, it doesn’t just educate the young. It also offers at least three varieties of learning for the non-young. The university itself permits auditors in some of its undergraduate courses; you can’t speak or ask questions, but you don’t have to do the papers and exams or even the assigned reading, either — although skipping the reading makes it all kind of beside the point. The university also schedules one or two courses per semester taught by its professors but reserved for auditors only; there, of course, you can ask all the questions you want. These auditors-only courses have many more seats available but, in my experience, are with only a couple of exceptions rarely as rigorous as those for students in the degree programs.
The Evergreen Forum, located at the Princeton Senior Resource Center, offers four-, six- and eight-week courses twice a year in a variety of subjects; these are taught without pay, presumably for the joy of it, by emeritus professors from various institutions of higher learning in the area (Princeton, College of New Jersey, Rutgers) — and by others with some expertise, or professed expertise, in the subjects they teach. The student body here is, by definition, “senior” — which has its good points and a few not so good that I won’t go into, as that might be construed as the pot calling the kettle black. Most Evergreen courses are oversubscribed, so seats are awarded by lottery. Bill and I were lucky enough this semester to win seats in an eight-week course taught by Lee Harrod, an emeritus Joyce specialist from the College of New Jersey, in which course, for the third or fourth time in my life, I will try to tackle and get through Ulysses. [Wish me luck on that one. Maybe there’s another post there, but not yet.]
And then there’s Princeton Adult School (“PAS”), which runs Tuesday and Thursday evenings in the Princeton High School. Some of the PAS courses are somewhat tacky and others aren’t. You can begin to learn Arabic, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, and conversational Japanese. You can sometimes find a Princeton professor doing a six- or eight-week class on Beethoven piano sonatas or the quartets. Or one from Westminster Choir College doing ten weeks on Chopin. You can also sign up for yoga or group piano lessons, or watch an instructor have a Skype interview with Philip Roth about Everyman. You can learn how to use your iPhone or how to set up a website. (I took the website class last fall and look what happened! First a “Learning to Blog” blog, and now this!)
However, not everything PAS lists in its offerings actually gets off the ground. Because its instructors are paid (although not a whole lot, I’ve heard), PAS can’t run classes for one or two students. Although there are usually twenty to thirty places available for each class, depending on the subject, not every class fills up by the first day of the semester. Classes with less than five enrollments are cancelled. This semester I enrolled in a six-week PAS course captioned “The Long Short Story.” I hadn’t read any of the stories in the curriculum, the weekly assignments sounded manageable — even in tandem with Ulysses — and the instructor was Jean Hollander.
I have become snobbish, in my old age, about whom I will seek out to “teach” me. But here, in Ms. Hollander, was someone I couldn’t resist — a celebrated poet who has won many awards and whose verse translation (with her husband, Robert Hollander) of Dante has been praised as the translation for our time. [She was even awarded the Gold Medal from the City of Florence (Italy) for the translation of Paradiso last year. ] According to her PAS bio, she has also taught literature and writing at Princeton University, Brooklyn College, Columbia University, and the College of New Jersey, where she was director of Writers Conferences for twenty-three years.
Surely a course like this, taught by a woman like that, would fill up! I paid the tuition, acquired the books containing the long short stories on the course list, and waited. The course is supposed to begin Thursday, October 2. As of today, September 29, only one other person beside me has signed up. If three more don’t join us in the remaining two days, I fear “The Long Short Story” at Princeton High School is not going to happen and I will get a refund.
But I think I’m going to do the reading anyway, with or without the course. And it would be much more fun if some of you would do it, too. Then we could exchange ideas about each story, and it would be almost like a seminar. And if the course actually does run, I could tell you what went on in each class, and you could comment back.
This is what you’d have to read. (I copied it from the syllabus attached to the course offering in the PAS catalogue.)
Week 1: Anton Chekov — “Misery” and “The Lady with the Dog” (Please read for the first class)
Week 2: Fyodor Dostoevsky — “Notes from Underground”
Week 3: Joseph Conrad — “The Lagoon”
Week 4: Thomas Mann — “Tonio Kröger”
Week 5: William Faulkner — “The Bear”
Week 6: Carlos Fuentes — “The Prisoner of Las Lomas”
NOTE: All these selections are available online or in various anthologies.
Is anyone up for it? If at least three of you speak up in the comment section that you’re game to do the reading and participate in a discussion, I’ll start with the two Chekhov stories. We don’t have to do it once a week; we can make it every other week if that’s easier, and pick a date to begin that’s convenient for all participants. [October 12, which is a Sunday, is just a suggestion.] And if you can’t find all the stories online, I’m sure your public library will have them. I have no idea how it will go. I’ve never done anything like this before. So saying you’ve never done anything like this before isn’t a good enough excuse. If you’re tempted, don’t toe the sand. Speak! Commit! Let’s do it!